Accessible playgrounds have become increasingly popular across the world for good reason. They offer a wide range of health benefits, not just for active kids, but for the entire community. By their very definition, accessible playgrounds are also inclusive; they provide people of all age groups, fitness levels, and socio-economic backgrounds with a space to exercise or just have some good old fashioned fun. Of course, simply having a playground in your community isn’t good enough if it isn’t accessible to every member of the community. Here are a few points that illustrate the importance of making playgrounds accessible to all from a health care perspective.
The Importance of Accessible Playgrounds
A Space for Our Growing Disabled Population
It is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans lives with a disability. Depending on the type of disability and its severity, this can have a severe impact on the quality of life and access to facilities. Millions of American families struggle to find playgrounds that are accessible and inclusive to those with special needs. This is particularly important for parents and caregivers. An accessible playground allows kids and adults with or without disabilities to interact and use a wide range of playground equipment, instead of having to watch from the sidelines.
Strengthens Childhood Development
As adults, we tend to overlook the importance of play, but research shows that active outdoor play is extremely important for childhood development. It allows kids to hone their social skills, encourages problem-solving, and teaches them about conflict resolution, compromise, and self-control. In addition to promoting the healthy development of social and communication skills, access to playgrounds also stimulates physical development, strengthening balance and coordination, and increasing muscle strength. This also increases the likelihood of your kids following a health fitness routine as adults.
Improves Physical Fitness & Mental Health
The rise of lifestyle diseases and obesity is closely linked to our sedentary lifestyle. This risk can be easily countered through increased physical activity at public playgrounds. Accessible playgrounds provide plenty of opportunities for a wide range of active recreation pursuits, from athletic leagues and sporting events to fitness and dance programs. Higher levels of physical activity aren’t just associated with improved physical fitness. Spending more time outdoors in parks and playgrounds can also lower stress levels, helping cope with common mental health conditions like chronic stress disorders and depression.
Helps Fight Chronic Disease
Aside from lifestyle diseases linked to obesity, chronic disease can include debilitating conditions like fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cystic fibrosis. While all of these conditions cause painful symptoms that can severely restrict mobility, there is plenty of evidence to show that physical activity improves treatment outcomes and can also reduce the risk of such conditions. The creation of accessible playgrounds in communities can help considerably in our fight against chronic disease, as these spaces provide opportunities for participation in outdoor activities even to those with limited fitness capabilities.
Boosts Community Health & Wellbeing
In addition to providing health benefits for individuals and specific groups, accessible playgrounds can improve the health and wellbeing of the community as a whole. The creation and promotion of public places for physical activity increase the participation of residents in fitness and social activities significantly. Aside from the obvious sporting and fitness programs, accessible playgrounds can also host cultural events to celebrate local art, music, theatre, and other activities, serving as a focal point for community life. Not surprisingly, communities that have better access to playgrounds and parks tend to have lower rates of crime and juvenile delinquency.
The growing popularity of inclusive and accessible playgrounds also offers less obvious economic incentives. A healthier community puts less pressure on our strained health care infrastructure and the value of privately owned property in the vicinity of public playgrounds and parks tends to increase. It would be hard if not impossible to list every reason to build accessible playgrounds in your neighborhood, but you can bet that there are more reasons than listed here.